January 1, 2020 at 11:48 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Top 10 local news stories of 2019

We promise to stop writing about ourselves in 2020 after spending much of last year celebrating the Washington Blade’s milestone 50th anniversary. But we are including that event in this roundup of 2019’s top local news stories:

No. 10 Blade celebrates 50th anniversary

50th anniversary gala, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Blade Editor Kevin Naff at the Washington Blade’s 50th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 18. (Washington Blade photo by Zach Brien)

The Washington Blade on Oct. 18 celebrated the 50 anniversary of its founding in 1969 at a gala dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel at the Wharf in Southwest D.C.

A number of prominent activists and public officials joined the Blade’s staff and contributors at the celebration, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who issued a proclamation declaring Oct. 18, 2019 Washington Blade Day. Also attending and speaking at the event was U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the senior openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Broadway star Frenchie Davis sang at the gala event as did the singing ensemble Potomac Fever, which is part of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.

Through exhibits and a presentation at the gala and throughout the year in its weekly editions and on its website the Blade has highlighted aspects of its 50-year history of covering the LGBTQQ community, the LGBTQ rights movement and the societal changes surrounding the rights of LGBTQQ people in the metro D.C. area, nationally and internationally.

No. 9 Town nightclub plans to reopen in former D.C. church

Town Danceboutique closing, gay news, Washington Blade
The Ladies of Town wave goodbye to their fans. (Washington Blade photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

Owners of the former LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique announced in August plans to reopen under the tentative name of Town 2.0 in a former church on North Capitol Street about a half-mile north of the U.S. Capitol.
The announcement came a little over a year after the popular club closed its location at 8th Street and Florida Avenue, N.W. where it operated for more than 10 years when the building it rented was sold to a developer that has since demolished it to build an apartment complex.

“After two full years of searching for a potential new space for a nightclub for the LGBTQ community, we are excited to confirm that we have found a space that has remarkable potential,” the Town owners said in a statement in August. But about two months later, opposition surfaced to the plans for a nightclub in the former St. James Baptist Church by the owners and tenants at an apartment building that abuts the former church.

Observers say Town made a strong case for how it will soundproof the church building to prevent noise from reaching the apartment building and its residents at a Dec. 4 hearing before the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which is expected to decide on whether to approve a license to allow Town to open in the church building sometime within 90 days of the December hearing.

No. 8 Deadlocked jury in trial of men charged in trans murder

Dodds verdict, gay news, Washington Blade
About 70 demonstrators turned out to protest a hung jury outcome in the murder of transgender woman Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge in April agreed to a request by prosecutors to schedule a second trial for two men charged with the July 4, 2016 murder of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds.

The decision by Judge Milton C. Lee to schedule a new trial, initially set for Feb. 25, 2020 but later changed to June 22, 2020, came one month after the jury in the first trial announced it was deadlocked over the pending charge of first-degree murder while armed against D.C. residents Monte Johnson, 23, and Jolonta Little, 28, prompting Lee to declare a mistrial. 

No. 7 Whitman-Walker restructures, opens Liz building

The Liz, gay news, Washington Blade
The exterior of the Liz building, now open on 14th Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In what it called a newly adopted “shared leadership model,” Whitman-Walker Health announced in January that its then-CEO Don Blanchon would become the founding CEO of a newly created nonprofit entity called Whitman-Walker System.

In the same announcement, Whitman-Walker said its then-Deputy Executive Director Naseema Shafi would replace Blanchon as CEO.

In an open letter to the community, Whitman-Walker said the shared leadership between Blanchon and Shafi was part of a major restructuring of its departments and divisions aimed at strengthening its wide range of healthcare programs and its ability to raise funds to sustain and expand those programs.

One of the endeavors Whitman-Walker officials say the restructuring is intended to bring about was the Nov. 6 official reopening of Whitman-Walker’s Elizabeth Taylor Building at 14th and R streets, N.W. The new six-story, mixed use, multimillion dollar building is part of a joint venture development project that Whitman-Walker entered into with a real estate development company

No. 6 Grosso leads fight to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

sex workers, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Council member David Grosso expressed his support for the nationwide effort to decriminalize sex work among consenting adults. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

LGBTQ rights advocates were among the strongest supporters of legislation reintroduced in 2019 by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

In his effort to build support for the decriminalization legislation Grosso has pointed out that transgender sex workers have been among those he believes are being harmed by the city’s current laws against prostitution that result in arrests rather than more productive ways to address the issue.

More than 160 witnesses testified for and against Grosso’s bill, the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019, during a contentious 14-hour D.C. Council hearing in October. There was insufficient consensus and overall support for the bill to bring it up for a vote in the full Council in 2019. Grosso vowed to continue efforts to advocate for the bill in 202

No. 5 Changes in Maryland politics

Maryland state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) on Nov. 20, 2019, formally announced she is running for mayor of Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of Walter Ludwig)

The announcement by lesbian State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore) that she is a candidate for the office of mayor of Baltimore, the passing of civil rights icon and pro-LGBTQ U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and news that longtime Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller was stepping down from that position after serving for 32 years were among the 2019 developments important to LGBTQ rights advocates in Maryland.

Washington’s announcement that she was entering the Baltimore mayor’s race came one year after she became the first openly LGBTQ person of color to win election to the Maryland Senate. Prior to her 2018 election to the State Senate Washington served in the Maryland House of Delegates since 2011.

Miller is credited with playing an important role in helping to pass LGBTQ rights legislation in Maryland despite his social conservative leanings. Although he said he could not personally support same-sex marriage he allowed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage to advance through the House of Delegates and even took steps to prevent opponents from blocking the bill.

No. 4 New Archbishop of D.C. has pro-LGBTQ record

Wilton D. Gregory, gay news, Washington Blade
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told a trans Catholic that, ‘You belong to the heart of this church.’

A comment in September by D.C.’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory in support of a transgender man at a public event appeared to confirm the optimism of LGBTQ Catholic activists that he would continue his past policies of welcoming LGBTQ Catholics into the fold of the church.

In April Pope Francis named Gregory, 71, as the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Gregory was installed into the position on May 21. LGBTQ Catholics familiar with Gregory said he has a record of recognizing and welcoming LGBTQ Catholics during his tenure as Archbishop of Atlanta for the 14 years prior to his appointment as head of the Washington Archdiocese.

No. 3 Report reveals scores of undisclosed D.C. hate crimes

At least eight but probably many more anti-LGBTQ hate crimes took place in D.C. in 2018 that D.C. police and prosecutors didn’t publicly disclose, according to an August 2019 investigative report by the Washington Post.

The post report, which examined police and court records of all 204 incidents designated by D.C. police as hate crimes in 2018, uncovered eight initially undisclosed cases of anti-LGBTQ violence or threats listed by police as hate crimes. One involved a Feb. 2, 2018 incident in which a lesbian was shot in the chest by a co-worker at an outdoor jobsite after the male co-worker harassed her over her sexual orientation.  

The Post found that out of the 204 reported hate crime cases in D.C. in 2018, police made an arrest in 59 of those cases involving adults. But the Post found that the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped the hate crime designation in all but three of those cases.

No. 2. Danica Roem re-elected; Dems win control of Va. legislature

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) speaks to supporters following her re-election on Nov. 5, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., won election to a second term on Nov. 5, defeating by a margin of 57-43 percent a Republican opponent who was backed by an anti-LGBTQ organization.

Similar to her first successful election campaign two years earlier, Roem emphasized in her 2019 campaign her support for the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program and efforts she has led to reduce traffic congestion on Route 28, a major highway in her district.

An anti-LGBTQ group that supported Roem’s GOP opponent, Kelly McGinn, and the Prince William Republican Committee, attacked Roem based on her gender identity.

In a development that LGBTQ rights advocates in Virginia have called a major breakthrough, Democrats won control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly in the November election, clearing the way, according to most political observers, for the passage of a statewide LGBTQ rights law in 2020.

No. 1 Record number of violent anti-LGBTQ attacks in D.C.

A large tapestry with Ashanti Carmon’s image was displayed at the church altar during a memorial service. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The year 2019 saw what many LGBTQ activists believe to be a record number of violent attacks or threats against LGBTQ people in the D.C. area.

Two transgender women, Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears, were shot to death in the same suburban Maryland town of Fairmount Heights just across the D.C. line on March 30 and June 13. A gay man, Vongell Lugo, was stabbed to death in his D.C. apartment on Jan. 6.

There were 13 separate incidents of assaults and robberies of gay men and transgender women in D.C. who police believe were targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Prince George’s County police have arrested 33-year-old Geraldo Thomas of Baltimore in the Spears murder and D.C. police have arrested 26-year-old Virginia resident Colin Potter in the Lugo case. Police say they have yet to confirm a motive in both of those cases.

But in nearly all of the 13 assaults and robbery cases, with arrests made in seven of them, D.C. police have listed the incidents as suspected anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. In separate incidents, one on April 15 and the other on June 16 – both in the U Street, N.W. entertainment area where several gay bars are located – a gay male couple was attacked, beaten, and robbed by groups of male suspects who yelled anti-gay slurs.

In the June 16 incident, Braden Brecht, 21, and his boyfriend, Karl Craven, 24, were attacked by a group of more than a dozen male assailants, witnesses told D.C. police, who have arrested two juvenile males and a 19-year-old male in connection with the incident.

From left, Karl Craven and his boyfriend, Braden Brecht, spent several hours in the emergency room after a group of men attacked them on U Street on June 16, 2019.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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